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Newly Minted Union Solicits Nominations for Bargaining Committee

A sign directs students to voting places during Harvard's second unionization election April 18.
A sign directs students to voting places during Harvard's second unionization election April 18. By Amy Y. Li
By Shera S. Avi-Yonah and Molly C. McCafferty, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers, Harvard’s newly formed graduate student union, sent an email to members Tuesday soliciting nominations for its bargaining committee.

Thirteen students will be elected to the committee, which will take charge of collecting feedback from members of the bargaining unit, setting the agenda for negotiations, and going to the bargaining table on behalf of HGSU-UAW.

The call for nominations comes shortly after eligible graduate and undergraduate student assistants voted to approve HGSU-UAW’s petition to represent them in negotiations with the University over wages, stipends, health care, and a host of other issues. In a historic election held April 18 and 19, roughly 56 percent of voters cast ballots in favor of unionization.

Eligible members of the bargaining unit will have until May 1 to nominate their peers to serve on the committee. Eleven positions on the committee are reserved for students who earn the highest number of votes within their school or their division of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Two additional members will earn their seats by winning the next highest number of votes overall, regardless of their school or division.

This breakdown is based on the number of eligible teaching and research assistants within each school or division. Specifically, the committee will be composed of one bargaining unit member from the School of Engineering and Applied Science, one member from the School of Public Health, one member from Harvard Law School, and one member from the College.

Within GSAS—whose students comprise the largest portion of the bargaining unit—the Humanities and Social Sciences divisions will contribute one member each, while the Natural Sciences division will contribute two members.

Two members will also be elected from the Division of Medical Sciences, which falls under both the Medical School and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and offers six interdisciplinary graduate programs, including a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences.

One member of the committee will come from one of Harvard’s “other professional schools,” the union’s email states. These schools include the Graduate School of Design, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Divinity School, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Harvard Business School, and the Division of Continuing Education.

Before the election, some students opposed to unionization said they worried the proposed bargaining committee would not represent their interests. For example, some students who work in labs said they feared the committee would focus on concerns particular to graduate students who work in a classroom setting.

Union organizers, though, said these students will not represent their schools on a constituent basis. Rather, they will all represent the interests of the entire bargaining unit collectively.

One of the bargaining committee’s first tasks will be the creation and distribution of a bargaining survey. During process of distributing and collecting these surveys—which can take months to complete—members of the bargaining unit will identify what they want union leadership to push for during negotiations. Unions typically wait until over half of members have completed the survey to create an initial bargaining agenda and begin negotiations with employers.

Though the bargaining committees will likely wait until the survey process is complete to generate an agenda, HSGU-UAW cited some major goals in the run-up to the election that may inform the agenda. For example, HGSU-UAW organizers have often pointed to provisions won by other graduate student unions relating to pay, childcare, and protections for victims of sexual harassment.

“I think it’s really exciting to see how many people already are really, really engaged with this process,” union organizer Andrew B. Donnelly said.

Though HGSU-UAW is making preparations to begin negotiations with the University, it remains unclear whether Harvard’s administration plans to bargain with the union. Shortly after the election, University spokesperson Anna G. Cowenhoven repeatedly declined to answer a question asking whether administrators will open negotiations with the newly empowered union.

The uncertainty around bargaining comes as graduate students at Columbia University are striking in response to their administration’s refusal to bargain. The voluntary strike will last until April 30. Columbia’s graduate union is also currently engaged in legal wrangling with its administration before the National Labor Relations Board.

—Staff writer Shera S. Avi-Yonah can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @saviyonah.

—Staff writer Molly C. McCafferty can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @mollmccaff.

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